Playing his entire major-league career in the Federal League, Donald George Marion, known in baseball as Dan or Rube, was born on July 31, 1889, in Bowling Green, Ohio. He was a right-handed pitcher, tall for the time at 6-feet-1 and 187 pounds. Nothing is known about his early life other than his birthplace. When he died the coroner was unable to locate his birth family.1
Marion must have played amateur ball in the Cleveland area before playing in the minor leagues, because in an article after the 1909 season in Minnesota, he is cited as claiming he was familiar with a third baseman the Duluth White Sox were thinking of signing. Manager Darby O’Brien was known to have recruited players from Cleveland, his hometown.2
Marion began his baseball career in Duluth of the Class-D Minnesota-Wisconsin League in 1909, although he signed with Terre Haute of the Three-I League the year before. There is no record of him playing in Terre Haute, but he wrote to L. Smith, president of the Terre Haute club, and to August Herrmann, chairman of the National Baseball Commission, seeking his release. His letter indicates that he had signed a contract with Indianapolis (American Association) manager Charlie Carr but was told by Terre Haute that he could play only for them.3 There is no record of Marion playing for anyone until 1909 in Duluth. Marion had a 19-12 record for league champion Duluth.
Marion’s contract was sold to the St. Louis Cardinals, who returned him to Duluth in 1910.4 He does not appear on a roster again until 1911, this time with the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association. He never again came close to his record in Duluth. For Milwaukee he appeared in 29 games, with a record of 4-8.
On August 12, 1911, Marion married Mae Ziebell in Minneapolis while his team was playing there.5 She had been a domestic servant for a family in Marathon, Wisconsin, according to the 1910 census. Her mother was an apartment supervisor in Milwaukee, and that is how the two met.6 The address on their marriage certificate is 597 Cass St., Milwaukee.7 They had a daughter, Jane Eileen, who at the age of one year died in Cleveland on October 3, 1913. The cause of death was given as chronic emphysema.8
In 1912, Marion was 8-4 in 36 games for the Brewers. In 1913 he played for Wilkes-Barre of the New York State League, appearing in 30 games but few statistics are available for his work that season. His contract was sold to Grand Rapids, but Marion had other plans.
With the formation of the Federal League in 1914, Marion found a place with the Federal League’s Brooklyn Tip-Tops, one of many who got an opportunity to play professionally because Federal League teams needed to fill out their rosters. Marion was one of a dozen players to make their major-league debut with the 1914 Tip-Tops.
Marion made his major-league debut on April 23 in a start against the Pittsburgh Rebels. He pitched 3⅓ innings and gave up nine hits and four runs, two earned, as the Tip-Tops lost 6-5. (The pitcher who followed Marion got the loss.) Marion’s first decision came on May 29 when he pitched eight innings against the Buffalo Blues and lost 5-1.
Marion pitched his first major-league complete-game win on June 19. The Brooklyn Eagle referred to him as a “promising young pitcher” and reported that he was shaky but worked out of trouble for an 8-6 victory.9 Marion pitched in 17 games in 1914 and finished the season with a 3-2 record and an ERA of 3.93. The Tip-Tops (77-77) finished fifth in the eight-team league. Teammate Tom Seaton (25-14) won almost a third of their games.
For Marion, 1915 was an improvement. He pitched 208⅓ innings in 35 games (25 starts) and was 12-9 with an ERA of 3.20. He won his first decision on May 6, a three-hitter against the St. Louis Terriers. He finished strong in September when, the Eagle said, he was considered to rank among the best pitchers in the league.10 Marion had two shutouts to his credit, one at the end of July and the other in late September.
On September 20 Marion pitched a complete game against the Kansas City Packers in Kansas City, winning 10-2. Three days later, still in Kansas City, he shut out the Packers, 3-0, his second blanking of the team. (He had shut them out on July 29.) From July 23 to September 8 Marion won six games in a row. His 12 wins led the Tip-Tops. Seaton was 11-11, while Happy Finneran and Jim Bluejacket each won 10 (but lost more games than they won.)
The 1915 Tip-Tops were 70-82 and finished seventh in the eight-team league. Marion’s last major-league game was the last game of the season, in Brooklyn on September 30 against Buffalo, a classic pitchers’ duel. At the end of eight innings Brooklyn had a 2-1 lead. Buffalo, however, scored two runs in the top of the ninth and won, 3-2. Marion pitched a complete game in front of a crowd of just 800.
By that time it was clear that the Federal League was in financial trouble. More bad news for the Tip-Tops came in October when the owner of the team and a big financial supporter of the Federal League, Robert B. Ward, died. A few weeks later, when rumors that an agreement to merge the Federals with National and American League teams began to circulate, George Ward, Robert’s brother and club owner, admitted that he hadn’t been paying attention to baseball matters for the last few weeks.11
By late December a pact was agreed upon and the Federal League closed up shop. Unfortunately for Marion, the Brooklyn franchise ceased to exist, and having achieved little in his tenure and possessing no extended contract, he was out of a job.
After the Federal League folded, Marion did not find a pitching position until 1917. That year, his last in Organized Baseball, he pitched in the Pacific Coast League for the last-place Vernon Tigers where he was 5-14 with an ERA of 4.42. He also pitched that season for Bloomington of the Three-I League where he had a 2-5 record and a 4.68 ERA.
Mae shows up in a 1923 Cleveland city directory as being a widow, although Donald Marion was still very much alive. Her occupation was listed as traveling saleslady. Donald was living alone in Milwaukee in 1926, when a city directory lists him with the occupation of clerk. His occupation on his 1933 death certificate was bartender.14 The Sporting News reported that he had been recently unemployed before his passing.15
The final years of Marion’s life were tragic. Years of drinking led to an early death. He was found in a Milwaukee boarding house on January 18, 1933, at the age of 43 suffering from a hemorrhage. He died at the County Emergency Hospital. The cause of death was a ruptured esophageal varix, or vein, brought on by chronic cirrhosis of the liver.16 The coroner tried to find two of Marion’s sisters who were thought to live in Cleveland but was not successful. With no next of kin other than his wife, who told the authorities that they had been separated for 14 years and she could not bury him, the former professional ballplayer was destined for burial in a potter’s field when his former Milwaukee club stepped up to pay for his burial.17
A service was held for Marion at St. Joseph’s Church and he was buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Milwaukee.18 His grave was unmarked for many years until SABR member Rex Hamann discovered it in 2004 and raised funds for a proper marker, which was put in place in 2008.19
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted Ancestry.com, Baseball-Reference.com, and Retrosheet.org.
1 “Kin of Don Marion Sought by Coroner,” Milwaukee Journal, January 23, 1933: 13.
2 “Irish Wit a Busy Boy,” Duluth Evening Herald, October 2, 1909: 9.
3 National Baseball Hall of Fame Dan Marion player file.
4 “Don Marion Is Dead,” The Sporting News, January 26, 1933: 2.
5 “Pitcher Marion Married,” unidentified newspaper clipping from the Marion player file in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
7 Ancestry.com. Minnesota, Marriages Index, 1849-1950 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.
8 “Ohio Deaths, 1908-1953,” database with images, FamilySearch (familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GPJ5-9SKJ?cc=1307272&wc=MD9F-838%3A287602501%2C294641301 : 21 May 2014), 1913 > 54501-57400 > image 2511 of 3319.
9 “Brooklyn Feds Win Third Straight,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 20, 1914: 2.
10 “Don Marion Pitches Great Ball and the Brookfeds Win a Game,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 21, 1915: 2.
11 “New Peace Plans Ridiculed by New York Baseball Men,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 28, 1915: 2.
12 “United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” database with images, FamilySearch (familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-L18H-4RJ?cc=1968530&wc=9FZS-VZS%3A928450001%2C928844501 : 14 May 2014), Wisconsin > Milwaukee City no 2; G-Z > image 1831 of 4351; citing NARA microfilm publication M1509 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
13 “Noted Pitcher Dies Penniless,” Milwaukee Journal, January 19, 1933, Marion’s Hall of Fame player file.
14 Death certificate found in National Baseball Hall of Fame Dan Marion player file.
15 “Don Marion Is Dead.”
16 Death certificate.
17 “Don Marion Is Dead.”
18 “Oldtime Friends Provide Funeral for Don Marion,” Milwaukee Journal, January 22, 1933.
19 Bobby Tanzilo, “Hamann Ensures Old Ball Players are Remembered,” On Milwaukee, May 20, 2008, onmilwaukee.com/sports/articles/aagraves.html.